“Stop it please..please don’t hurt my maa”
A young Arnav wrapped his arms around his mother’s legs, trying his best to save her from the wrath of his drunken father. This was one of those days, bad days, where papa would come home reeking of alcohol and would pick on silly things to fight about. Those days were not regular but whenever that happened, it used to scare the living shit out of him and his sister. Maa had warned him, pleadingly, to stay clear from his father on such days and he did that. He would take Anjali di’s hand and they both would hide beneath the bed with their toys. Anjali di used to narrate some tale to him about a kingdom where the king would ride his pristine white horse and would fight with the evils to save the innocents. Over the time, that story became real for Arnav and an innocent eight year old him would often left wondering if the king would ever come to save his mother too, someday. Maybe he should ask god to send the king their way. Yes, he would remind them during his night prayers daily. Sometimes, he used to visualize himself sitting on that horse with a sword in his hand. In his imagination the sword would be long, shiny and sharp and he would use it to scare his father away. He would also ask him to promise to never lay another hand on maa again. He had often seen her crying soundlessly during such nights after his father would pass away on the bed or the couch and it hurt like hell. Maa never told them what was wrong but he could just sense it.
Crouching beneath that bed, clutching di’s hand in fear while waiting for his father’s screaming to subside, he would close his ears to stop those voices but it would still sting his ears and hurt his chest. Then those voice would grew louder and it would start. The first strike. His mother’s wail and he would clutch his fists tighter, digging his nails into the skin of his palm to inflict the same pain maa was going through. He would concentrate on the white of his knuckles to zone out the screams coming from outside and release his fingers slowly to see the blood again rushing back towards the tips. It was ugly. Feeling helpless was ugly. It was a dark place and he felt like drowning. As small as he was, given his age, one thing was sure, he didn’t like that feeling a bit. To suffer it all without being able to do a thing, it was worst. He wished he would grow up soon, get enough strength to fight his father and save maa from him.
He would do it. One day, he would do it.
“Don’t touch maa..stooopppp”
He screamed, his vision blurry from those unshed tears and his hands trying his best to shield maa’s body. His little courageous stunt managed to get him his father’s undivided attention now.
“You…you little piece of shit”
His father bellowed, speech a bit slurry but the anger in his eyes just topped a notch if not more.
“Nooooooooo..don’t do anything to him. Arnav go away” Maa’s helpless wails pierced his ears and he pinched his eyes shut unable to look into her eyes for the pain in them would be too much for his liking
“Wait..I will teach you what it is like to argue with your father”
With that he striked Arnav on his back for the first time ever with the buckled part of his leather belt and Arnav couldn’t help but his breath whooshed out from his lungs all of a sudden. It stung. It stung like hell and he went dizzy for a second there. The pain was unlike anything he had ever experience before. It originated from there and travelled upwards to his body now coursing to his limbs leaving needles like sensation allover. Before he could catch his breath at that sudden inexplicable pain, there came the second without the warning. Then the third.
Papa was yelling, directing all his anger towards him, maa was sobbing amidst attempts to save him and the only thought running through Arnav’s mind was maa was safe from his anger today. By the time fifth landed, Arnav felt a tinge bit proud on figuring out how an alcoholic’s mind worked. It worked today in his favor. That felt like his first big achievement.
Arnav matured beyond his age, overnight!
Khushi tensed suddenly as the realization hit her and every single muscles in her body went tight as a coiled spring. Shit shit shit. It was the worst possible way in which she wanted him to find out. Not like this. God, this is just so wrong and unfair. Unfair on him. Of course, anybody would have freaked out knowing this way and this was ASR they are talking about. He was the one who came packed with fragile instructions of handling with care as far as breaking the news of her pregnancy was concerned. She rubbed her forehead trying to subside the throbbing pain. When did that happen? Today? Yesterday? She recalled the last time she talked with Arnav and it was only yesterday when he had dropped her home. She did not call or text him post that cause she thought she would give him some space to process things out on his own. Devi maiya, she silently pleaded her deity to give him enough strength they needed the most, as a family to sail through this.
She can only imagine what all he must be going through on his own. Lots of question must be going through his mind with no answers in sight and she wished she could be there at such time where they both could draw courage from each other. Hoping against hope that he would come to his senses soon when the reality will actually sink in and contact her. Maybe tomorrow. She should at least give him the space he needed to figure out things on his own and without her being clingy to him. With that final thought she quietly lay down on the bed resting her head on the cold pillow while clutching the phone tightly in her hand. That night, for khushi, turned out to be a very restless one.
However, Things started to become clearer to her from the next day onwards. When he still refused to revert back his texts or calls.
A day turned to two and then four.
And now it was the 4th day. Four days since she had last heard anything from him. Though Anjali di had called regularly but it seemed she had no clue about what actually was going on in their lives. Her babuji seemed sort of worried at first but decided it was nothing more than regular husband wife tiffs, he tried not to intervene in her personal matters. Afterall, he had full trust on his daughter’s ability in sorting her matters in their own timely manner. Buaji was somewhat concerned seeing her unusual moods and asked her multiple times but khushi was just not in the state to clarify anything. How could she when she herself was searching for the answers. She knew she couldn’t share it with anyone, without completely breaking down herself. So, she decided to let the facade of ‘normality’ saved her from the agony, for the time being.
I will never be like you. You hurt maa, you are not a good person, you don’t love her, you don’t love us..I will never be like you when I will grow up
hahaha..What are you saying? Never be like me??..haha..don’t forget you have my blood in you and you can’t change a thing about it. YOU WILL END UP EXACTLY LIKE ME IF NOT WORSE..hahahaha
Arnav woke up suddenly with a jolt. His body was drenched in sweat despite the air conditioner running at full speed. That cruel laughter still ringing close to his ears and he placed a hand on his chest to calm his raging heartbeat. It was happening again. These nightmares. They were back after 10 years. It was fourth day in a row when he woke up in the middle of the night like this and knew he wouldn’t get any sleep for the rest of the night. His vision was blurry and all he could hear was the sudden pounding of his heart slamming against his chest, louder every single time. His forehead was glistening with sweat beads now rolling down his cheeks. He blinked several times to regain his vision and the stream of moonlight coming from the poolside reminded him of the familiarity of the present and not the ugly past he thought he was trapped in.
His senses were heightened all of a sudden, as if he was back to his eight year old self guarding the front, from him.
He splashed his face with cold water and let go the pent up breath he didn’t know he was holding. Bracing his palms on the counter, he leaned forward and looked at his reflection in the mirror. A minute. Two minutes. He didn’t realize how long he was standing infront of that mirror. The man looking back at him, was not him. Or was it? Was he slowly turning into him or he has already?
Closing his eyes in frustration he turned away from the mirror and started making his way out when he stepped on something. The squeak sliced the midnight silence and reverberated in the air around him. He bend down and picked the object from beneath his slippers. The pregnancy test stick. He must have thrown it that day. Now four days later when he looked at it again, the two pink straight lines that indicated pregnancy that day were now almost blurred that he couldn’t see it anymore and that small white space was looking like a canvas of pink with an artistic stroke. For a moment, he doubted his mind as to he actually saw. Exhaling a long breath he kept the stick inside one drawer and closed it shut before making his way out of the washroom.
He stepped onto the poolside and immediately greeted by the cold chilly air. Pocketing his hands, he glanced upwards. The sky was dark, blank and clear. Just like last three days that he couldn’t spot a single thing. The wind was now blowing his hair and his thin T shirt was doing close to nothing to shield him from the chill to enter his spine but his gaze? His gaze was busy searching something.
Toh kya vo sach me taare ban jaate hain?
Do they really turn into stars?
Baat sach ya jhooth ki nahi hai, baat yakeen ki hai
Its not about truth or lie. Its about belief.
“Maa..where are you?”
She had been calling him since seven days. Though the intensity of calls had decreased with each day that was passing. She didn’t know how to react. She couldn’t think anymore. She couldn’t quite believe it was happening to her. Was that the same man, who promised her that they will finally have that dreading talk and so weak was his promise that it couldn’t quite stand the first truth that he faced after making it. No. She will not think about it. It was something her brain had pushed to the back of her mind to avoid the heartbreak she sensed coming. It was her defense mechanism that was working fine for her, for the time being.
Those seven days that she spent at home, she moved like a zombie. No clue of whatsoever was happening to her, she just felt her hopes were getting crushed a bit more with each day he didn’t come around. Her trust on the man, on her love and on the faith that they could make it work was also shredding to pieces.
However, it was on the seventh day when Khushi realized something that she kept pushing to the back of her mind. Maybe, they were destined to be together till that point only. Maybe, the whole point in why they met, why got indulged in a strangely unusual time bound marriage was so she could meet the love of her life, realize how it is like to fall in love with someone. Yes, she could never deny loving him, just a tiny bit of guilt that she never got the chance to confess it to his face. Maybe that could have helped. Maybe he could have tried a bit harder. Maybe he wouldn’t have given up so easily. Or maybe she should have taken some other route.
And there were millions of ‘maybe’ she could have thought of. She knew she loved him and will continue loving him, despite whatever he thinks about that. But now, there isn’t just her and him. There is one another innocent soul too that is now involved and it wouldn’t be fair if she continued to live her life in ‘maybe’. By the end of day seven, Khushi had finally accepted the harsh reality. He wasn’t ready and He wasn’t coming willingly. And this was not a sudden realization. It was lingering in the back of her mind ever since he dropped her that day. She had just boxed and pushed it to the back of her mind labeling it as nothing but her silly overthinking. She had far more trust in him than herself. But life doesn’t always comes with a user manual. As much as she loved him to death and would do anything for him, there were few bridges that he had to cross on his own. She could only wait at the other end hoping him to take that single step forward. But if he is not willing to take that step, there only much that she can do.
With some clarity of thoughts she realized that no matter, how much it will hurt her in the process but it was finally the time for her to let him go.